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Staying the Course: Clean Energy Within the New Politcal Realities

As the political theater in Washington, DC reaches new heights, I believe we should be thoughtful of what the clean energy community should expect, act, and stand for. Already certain leaders of the national renewable energy and efficiency associations have publicly stated they would accept the inclusion of coal and nuclear in a "National Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard" or a "National Clean Energy Standard."

Now let’s forget for a minute that it is highly unlikely we will see significant legislation of any kind in the next two years of this pre-Presidential race cycle. But why would anyone who cares about clean energy stake out such a position so early or state such a position at all?

Since a portion of my work is for the Department of Defense and the respective services, packaging our assets as it relates to “mission” is very important. That said, in my speeches and teaching seminars for military audiences, I layout the assets of high value energy efficiency and renewable energy:

  • Flat energy rates – predictability
  • No interruptible energy by either terrorists, political players and cartels, human error, acts of nature, or aging infrastructure
  • Electric power quality
  • Low water inputs and low waste outputs
  • Load management and overcoming pipeline (and convoy) and electric transmission and distribution bottlenecks
  • And, oh yes, renewable energy meets Clean Air Act emissions requirements, offsets unregulated mercury, carcinogens, and greenhouse gas emissions

And that brings me to the point of this article: While it is fine to repackage or reconfigure our assets to play our strengths — it would be a sad mistake to dilute our assets for short term political gain.

The leaders of the child labor or civil rights movements didn’t compromise and say “some children can be allowed to work in factories and sweatshops” or “some minorities can be discriminated against.” And neither should we regarding national policies towards creating a portfolio of clean, domestic technologies for our fuels, electricity and thermal energy.

I hate to put my professor hat on, but excuse me, how is coal clean? Even if you could sequester carbon, it emits mercury, carcinogens, requires much water, emits other greenhouse gases, leaves us with coal ash waste piles, and drives the blowing-up of our mountain tops ruining waterways and farmland. 

Nuclear energy, with its multi-thousand year wastes, imported uranium, and susceptibility to terrorism is another ploy to re-label non-renewable technologies and ooze them into our brand. This reminds me how the high fructose corn syrup industry has recently relabeled itself the “corn sugar” industry or how the food processing industry is fighting labeling requirements so that consumers might infer that they are “organic.”

Our brand — that we are domestic, clean, renewable and solve multiple problems — is what makes us worth it, frankly at almost any price. Just because we subsidize the conventional energy industries to the tune of $60 - $135 billion per year, depending whose statistics you look at, and do not monetize their external issues relating to water, land use and the environment doesn’t make them cheaper — it only makes them appear less expensive.

So the point of this missive is that we need to be “comfortable in our own skin,” and understand that there are ups and downs in politics.  We should remind ourselves that we have many Republican and Democratic supporters, and most importantly, that according to every national poll, the public loves clean energy compared to any other conventional option.

We also need to be vigilant in addressing those who are posturing and deriding clean technologies for their short term political gain. One senior House member recently held up an incandescent light bulb and publicly declared how he will fight their ban implying the folly of CFLs and LEDS. While I know and respect the Congressman, in my recent speech in his home State of Texas, I responded by saying, “while I admire this member in many ways, his statement is beyond reason — why would anyone who loves this country want us to expend 75-90% more energy in lighting causing us to divert capital for economic growth towards feeding wasteful energy habits?”  We should not acquiesce to taunts that are untrue about any clean technology — standing and watching does us no service.

So my advice to those national clean energy leaders who are stampeding to compromise for minimal gains is to “chill.” Our industries are scaling, attracting over $300 billion of private capital globally, enjoying over 90 percent public approval, and addressing several of our most critical national problems.

And to all of us: be resolute about our industries’ value towards our country’s future and that of our planet — we are absolutely essential. Diluting this message or our benefits is folly, for “we” are the future. Happy New Year.

Scott Sklar runs the Washington, DC-based The Stella Group, Ltd., which is a strategic technology optimization and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University teaching a unique multi-disciplinary sustainable energy course that began in September 2010. On November 4, 2010 Secretary Locke approved Sklar’s appointment to the Department of Commerce Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee (RE&EEAC). Sklar can be reached at solarsklar@aol.com.

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